Adi Shankar – Digital Bootlegs
Words + Interview: Tyrone Davis
Adi Shankar is film producer and YouTube personality who is best known for “The Grey”, “Castlevania” and his “Bootleg Universe” series. He is also a producer of Joseph Kahn’s film “Bodied”, which is now available on Youtube Premium. During our chat, we discussed his childhood, “Bodied” and other film projects, the state of the entertainment business and creating content in the internet age.
How did you end up in Hong Kong and Singapore, being that you are originally from India?
My family moved there in search of better opportunities. I’m very fortunate to have been exposed to a myriad of cultures before adulthood. It gave me a perspective and point of view that continues to benefit my work.
As an army brat, I spent some time living and traveling in Europe when I was young but I’ve always wanted to travel further west. What did you like most about Hong Kong?
I liked that in my lifetime I got to experience living under colonial rule and that I can remember the residue of the British Empire. Hong Kong was the second last British colony with Macau being the last. It’s something that sounds so ancient today, but I live in it.
In America, we’ll relocate from state to state and not have to deal with major changes other than cost of living and things of that nature. How does that work abroad? I’ve heard quite a few people relocating to completely different countries. How do you adjust to different cultures, language, etc.?
It’s not like that in the East. Each region has a radically different and nuanced culture. Fortunately being forced to adapt consistently at a very young age made me hyper attune to body language.
How does one immigrate to America by himself at the age of 16? What was that experience like and what type of adversity did you face when you got here, if any?
It was scary. I had just moved here and two days later, 9/11 happened. The second was that some of the nomenclature was foreign to me. Finally, I didn’t know how to drive.
How did you get your start as a creative? Was it before or after arriving to LA?
No. I spent years trying to stake my ground as a creative. I had to combat my own insecurities and my own preconceived notions. Also, back then the industry had almost no diversity, so that was a struggle. Finally, I learned how to drive so I could move to LA so the freeways were scary.
To have as many big projects as you have, do you think that came from pure talent alone or “who you know”? Which do you think is most important in 2018?
I didn’t know anyone in Hollywood when I moved here. I wouldn’t say pure talent either because I had a ton of angles, helpers and people who believed in me.
You’re a producer of the Joseph Kahn film, “Bodied” that was released not too long ago and will be available as a Youtube Original soon. For those who haven’t seen it, what is the film about?
On the surface it’s a film about underground battle rap. Under the hood it’s a dissection and send up of our PC culture. The hypocrisy of living life today frustrated Joseph Kahn so much he had to make this film.
Eminem and his manager, Paul Rosenburg are also producers of this film. What was it like working with them?
They did an amazing job on the soundtrack. Joseph Kahn and Eminem go so far back as he directed several of Eminem’s early music videos that were responsible for branding him.
I was having a conversation some friends a few months back and they had never heard of the term “satire”. I told them that Aaron Mcgruder’s “The Boondocks” was an example of one. For those who aren’t aware, what is a satire and what was the approach to creating “Bodied”?
Satire is subversive comedy disguised as a drama. Bodied is a film about an outsider, both racially and culturally, infiltrating the rap world. Bodied in a lot of ways is a simulation of internet culture.
Can we expect to see any real battle rappers in this film or will they all be actors?
This film is packed with battle rappers and actors. Joseph Kahn is such a brilliant director that he can work with actors and non-actors alike and it will be awesome.
Were you a battle rap fan prior to this project? If so, who are your “Top 5” battle rappers?
No, not a fan. Murda Mook, Aye Verb, Eminem, Jin and Eyedea.
There has always been a myth that battle rappers can’t write songs because they are too focused on BARS. That may have been more true 10-15 years ago, but I’ve heard some dope music from some battle rappers over the years like Quest MCODY, Arsonal, Lotta Zay, Ciddy and more. What is your take on it?
Agreed. I also think what is considered a good song has paradigm shifted because of the internet and the low cost of producing/distributing music and that’s leveled the playing field.
You’re also acting a bit in the film, correct?
I have a cameo, yes. I play a campus security guard. I’ve been told it’s a memorable scene.
“Bodied” premiered in 2017 and I even remember Charlamagne tha God mentioning that he was going to appear in the film back then. Can you give us any insight as to what happens behind the scenes with the release of projects like this?
Every project is completely different. Bodied is particularly unusual because Hollywood doesn’t understand the film’s audience, so this was an education process for everyone involved.
Tell us about Netflix’s “Castlevania”. I haven’t seen it yet but I recently watched the trailer for season 2 and it looks good. It reminds me of Todd McFarlane’s HBO series, “Spawn” in regard to the artwork and I really enjoyed that. So, I’m going to binge it so I can catch up.
It’s a fantasy show about Dracula, mythical creatures and the vampire hunting family who battle them. It’s based on a video game series that’s been running since the 80’s.
Speaking of binge-watching film projects, do you think content is being released to frequently at this point? As a creative myself, I sometimes feel as though people don’t really appreciate creative works as much as they used to because so much is being thrown at them at once.
In 5 years we’ll have 50 times the amount of content, so get ready. That content will be super niche and super specific.
Even on the music side, people are listening to albums the day of release and calling them “classics”. What is your approach to creating? Any pressure trying to keep up with everyone else?
I feel immense pressure trying to keep up with myself. Pressure to keep up with everyone else is an illusion that will rot your creative core.
I’ve never been to a Comic-Con of any kind, but I’ve always wanted to go and I feel like I’m losing for having not been to one yet. Am I correct?
Yes, you’re missing out. It’s a cultural phenomenon at this point that transcends its mere convention roots.
When I was living in Germany (92-95), I used to watch “Sailor Moon” and “Ronin Warriors”. That was the only exposure I had to Anime. My senior year of high school, I got into “Dragon Ball Z” but after watching for about 6 weeks, I stopped because they were fighting Majin Buu too long and I got tired of “tuning in next week”. You and I are the same age but I am black and it wasn’t a thing in our culture. As a grown up, I’m seeing a lot of black people are into it. Explain Anime culture and why you think the people that enjoy it do so much?
Anime culture, like battle rap culture, sneaker culture, comic book culture or any subculture that the internet has magnified into a mainstream culture is hard to describe in a sentence because it’s filled with nuance.
What superhero film or film based on a cartoon would you like to see be made or remade? I really hope we get “Thundercats” at some point. I don’t want to read any more articles about it until it’s a 100% go.
He-Man. I want He-Man.
You know what? I just realized you did the “Power/Rangers” film that was on Youtube. I even posted it on our website on 2/24/2015 and credited you. I completely forgot and hadn’t put two and two together. That’s wild. So, THAT’S the “Bootleg Universe”. Explain that for those who don’t know. I feel like I just took an L, lol.
Power/Rangers was a hard-R take on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I was a huge Power Rangers fan growing up, and I saw the show about being about an alien (Zordon) recruiting and brainwashing children to fight.
That film was originally pulled down, right?
Yes. It caused some controversy. Power/Rangers was how I saw the show as a 7 year old.
Considering the climate of the entertainment business today, are “gatekeepers” still in control? Elaborate.
Yes. There are still gatekeepers but the floodgates are opening because the cost of making content continues to drop, distribution has evolved because of the smart phone and people want specific content today when for decades it was all about making things for the lowest common denominator.
After “Bodied” and your upcoming project in 2019, where do you go from there?
To Asgard to steal Stormbreaker from Thor.
How can you be reached via social media?
People can reach me @bootleguniverse on Instagram.
Any last words?
No, just be yourself and believe in yourself.
Photo of Adi Shankar By Dexter Brown